The People’s Republic of China wrapped up its annual National People’s Congress session on Monday as tensions remain high between Beijing and Washington.
“China’s legislature meets for one or two weeks each spring to outline the nation’s policy direction and set economic targets for the year ahead,” Michael Cunningham, a research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, explained recently for The Daily Signal. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
In October, the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party held its weeklong, twice-a-decade meeting, at which Chinese President Xi Jinping secured his third five-year term as party general secretary, The Daily Signal previously reported.
“With this session being the first since last fall’s party congress, it has the added role of installing new government leaders and announcing a restructuring of state institutions, which is expected to be extensive,” Cunningham said.
Here are six key takeaways from the CCP congress:
1. Xi Wins Third Term
Xi won a third five-year term unanimously as the president of the People’s Republic of China. Members of the National People’s Congress voted 2,952 to 0 to reelect him.
“I pledge my allegiance to the Constitution of the PRC to safeguard the Constitution’s authority, and fulfill my legal obligations, be loyal to the country and the people, be committed and honest in my duty, accept the people’s supervision, and work for a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful,” Xi said, according to the Xinhua News Agency, the official state media outlet.
“We will continue to view and develop China-U.S. relations in accordance with the principles of peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation,” Mao Ning, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said following Xi’s win.
John Kirby, spokesman of the U.S.’ National Security Council, also weighed in on Xi’s unprecedented victory.
“[President Joe Biden] is focused on managing the strategic competition with China, and we’re going to continue to keep the lines of communication open with the Chinese,” Kirby said.
2. Government ‘Work’ Report
Outgoing Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivered the “Report on the Work of the Government” during the first session of the congress on March 5.
The report included “recommendations for the work of government” for this year, including:
- Follow the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.
- Implement the guiding principles from the party’s 20th National Congress.
- Act on the guidelines of the Central Economic Work Conference.
- Make solid progress in advancing Chinese modernization.
- Promote a full economic recovery.
“The government work report confirmed that China is hyperfocused right now on recovering from its dismal economic performance in 2022,” Cunningham told The Daily Signal in a statement. “But the focus was not on economic growth, but what it referred to as ‘economic stability.’”
The report also included “main projected targets” for 2023, including “[gross domestic product] growth of around 5 percent” and “[consumer price index] increase of around 3 percent.”
“The work report emphasizes striking a balance between ‘stability’ and ‘progress.’ In other words, the Chinese government doesn’t want to waste another year without actively pursuing its program of transforming its economy and eliminating what it sees as major risks impeding China’s rise as a global power,” Cunningham said. “So, it chose a very manageable economic growth target of 5% for the year.”
Other targets focus on “growth in personal income that is generally in step with economic growth” and “steady increases in both the volume and quality of imports and exports,” according to the report.
3. Xi Takes Swipe at US
Xi blamed the U.S. and Western countries for what he described as the “containment, encirclement, and suppression” of China, ABC News reported.
“Western countries—led by the U.S.—have implemented all-around containment, encirclement, and suppression against us, bringing unprecedentedly severe challenges to our country’s development,” Xi reportedly said, according to Xinhua, during a “a closed-door session with delegates from China’s private sector.”
Michael Swaine, a senior research fellow with the New York-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, reacted to Xi’s remarks.
“This is the first time to my knowledge that Xi Jinping has publicly come out and identified the U.S. as taking such actions against China,” Swaine said. “It is, without doubt, a response to the harsh criticisms of China, and of Xi Jinping personally, that Biden and many in the administration have leveled in recent months.”
4. ‘Cold War Mentality’
At a news conference in Beijing, Qin Gang, China’s foreign minister, warned of “confrontation and conflict.”
“When the U.S. says it wants to ‘install guardrails’ and have ‘no conflict’ in China-U.S. relations, it really means that the U.S. requires China not to fight back when hit or scolded, but this cannot be done,” Qin said. “If the United States does not hit the brakes, but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing, and there will surely be conflict and confrontation.”
Cunningham said Qin’s statement is “pretty standard Chinese language generally.”
“They are engaging in Cold War against us and telling us we need to not have a Cold War mentality. Of course, because if two sides are fighting the Cold War, it’s a lot harder to win than if only they are, right?” Cunningham said on a recent episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
And so, you do get … China wanting the U.S. to pretty much stand back and just let China continue to rise at our expense, as we had done for decades, essentially.
Now, what is different about Qin Gang’s statement, and I would say especially about Xi Jinping’s statement … is that generally when the Chinese, especially someone as senior as Xi, when they criticize the U.S. in an official statement, they criticize ‘certain countries.’ They don’t directly say ‘the U.S.,’ and so, this is actually quite significant.
Xi’s and Qin’s comments were made against the backdrop of already tense relations between the U.S. and China, specifically since the U.S. military shot down a Chinese spy balloon on Feb. 4 off the South Carolina coast.
“The U.S. side violated the spirit of international law and international practice by making presumptions of guilt, overreacting, abusing force and making use of the issue to create a diplomatic crisis that could have been avoided,” Qin said of the spy balloon incident.
5. New Defense Minister, New Premier
Gen. Li Shangfu was appointed as defense minister on Sunday.
The National People’s Congress voted unanimously for Li, who is “a veteran of the People’s Liberation Army’s modernization drive,” CNN reported.
The Trump administration sanctioned Li as well as China’s Equipment Development Department, which Li was leading at that time, in 2018 for buying Russian weaponry, “including a Su-35 combat aircraft and a S-400 surface-to-air missile system,” according to CNN. The sanctions are still in place today.
China also has a new premier, Li Qiang, Axios reported.
Li, considered a “close ally” of Xi, is viewed “as a pragmatist, and will be tasked with reviving China’s struggling economy,” the BBC reported.
Just three delegates voted against Li. Eight withheld their votes, and 2,936 delegates voted in his favor on Saturday, according to the BBC.
6. China’s Military Budget
China plans to increase its military spending this year by 7.2% to $225 billion, The Daily Signal reported on March 7.
“We remained committed to the party’s absolute leadership over the people’s armed forces,” Li Keqiang, the outgoing premier, said about the past year in his statement to the National People’s Congress, adding:
The people’s armed forces intensified efforts to enhance their political loyalty, to strengthen themselves through reform, scientific and technological advances, and personnel training, and to practice law-based governance.
“We should consolidate and enhance integration of national strategies and strategic capabilities and step up capacity-building in science, technology, and industries related to national defense,” he also said.
Wilson Beaver, senior policy analyst for defense budgeting with the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation, weighed in on China’s military budget.
“China will be boosting its defense spending to a total of 1.55 trillion yuan ($225 billion), a number that is both higher than last year’s increase in defense spending and faster than the Chinese government’s annual economic growth forecast of about 5%,” Beaver wrote for The Daily Signal.
“China has consistently increased military spending for years with the goal, according to the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, of securing what Beijing considers sovereign Chinese territory, establishing preeminence in East Asian affairs, and projecting power globally while offsetting U.S. military superiority,” Beaver also said.
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